MADERA, Calif. (CN) - A state judge Friday refused to dismiss criminal charges against 15 people accused of raiding the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino last year, sparking the casino's evacuation and closure.
The 15 defendants include faction leaders Tex McDonald and Vernon King, as well as tribal police officers and members of their security team. They face charges that include kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.
On Oct. 9, McDonald's faction stormed the casino in Coarsegold - 40 minutes northeast of Fresno - using firearms and Tasers to gain control of the casino from a competing tribal faction, the Lewis-Ayala group.
The McDonald faction said it was trying to recover audit information requested by the National Indian Gaming Commission, which had threatened to close the casino if two years of audits were not filed by Oct. 27.
The raiding faction detained and handcuffed members of the Lewis-Ayala faction's security force and later released them to then-Madera County Sheriff John Anderson.
The sheriff's office did not make any arrests that night, but later arrested members of the McDonald faction.
On Friday, Madera County Superior Court Judge Dale Blea refused to dismiss the charges against the 15 defendants, finding that the county acted properly in making the arrests.
Blea said that the state has an obligation to enforce criminal laws on tribal lands, and found no distinction between crimes committed on tribal land and crimes committed by rival factions against each other.
Blea also ruled that the defendants do not have immunity in the casino office raid, even if some of them were acting as officers of the legitimate tribal government.
Peace officers can be prosecuted when they use unreasonable force during arrests, he noted.
Blea said that dismissing the criminal charges would send a message that the McDonald faction was the legitimate government and had the right to forcibly evict the security employees hired by the Lewis-Ayala faction.
Neither lawyers for the defense or prosecution immediately returned requests for comments.
The day after the raid, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the California Attorney General's Office shut down the casino due to safety concerns.
A federal judge issued a restraining order prohibiting anyone from being armed near the casino or at any neighboring tribal property.
The casino remains closed.